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Small Claims

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) in how many small claims cases in the county court in 2007 parties were represented at any stage by (a) counsel and (b) a solicitor; (210073)

(2) how many claimants in small claims cases in the county court appeared at court in person in 2007;

(3) how many complaints his Department received on the (a) system and (b) procedures of the small claims court in each of the last three years; and what three subjects were most frequently raised in such complaints;

(4) how many successful small claims made in the county court in 2007 resulted in (a) recovery of monies claimed without recourse to further action, (b) recovery of monies claimed following intervention of bailiffs and (c) failure to recover monies claimed;

(5) what average time elapsed between commencement and finish of county court cases for claims under the value of £5,000 which were defended and had a hearing in Chambers or courts in (a) 2000 and (b) 2007;

(6) how many claims under £5,000 were lodged in the county court in 2007; how many were defended with (a) a defence and (b) a counterclaim; and how many defended actions were heard in (i) open court and (ii) in chambers.

Table 1 shows the numbers of small claims in the county courts of England and Wales in 2007, broken down according to whether the claimant was represented and whether the defendant was represented in each case. The data were sourced from the main administrative system in the county courts (CaseMan) which holds the details of legal representatives, but not whether these were barristers (counsel) or solicitors. Representation details can be added, amended or deleted from CaseMan at any stage during a case's progression through the court. The figures shown reflect the latest recorded data on representation in small claims hearings that took place during 2007.

Based on these figures it can be calculated that 32,163 (60 per cent.) of the 53,226 small claims hearings in 2007 involved at least one party which had legal representation. Claimants were not legally represented in 28,362 (53 per cent.) of cases.

HM Courts Service (HMCS) records its centrally received user complaints in one of 10 categories. These relate to the stage of the court process which prompted the complaint, rather than to the type of case being heard. It is therefore not possible to identify complaints that explicitly relate to small claims cases. However, Table 2 shows a breakdown by category of all complaints received centrally by HMCS in the last three financial years. These figures cover all areas of HM Courts Service business, encompassing over 1 million small claims among a total of over 4 million cases per year across civil, criminal and family justice.

During 2007, county court bailiffs recovered an average of 89.5 pence in the pound from correctly directed warrants of execution (i.e. where the creditor supplied the correct address) across all cases in the county courts of England and Wales in 2007. Data are not currently available for small claims alone, or on the recovery of monies other than through the actions of county court bailiffs.

During 2007, there were an average of 28 weeks between the date of issue and the date of hearing for small claims (whether for specified or unspecified amounts) disposed of at hearing in England and Wales. The equivalent figure for 2000 was 29 weeks, although there were changes in the data collection method during the intervening period meaning that the comparison should be treated with caution.

There were 1.194 million claims issued in the county courts of England and Wales for specified amounts of £5,000 or less during 2007. Of these, 382,000 (32 per cent. of the total) were issued at named local county courts, rather than via the Money Claims On-Line (MCOL) service or the County Court Bulk Centre (CCBC). There were 92,000 defences entered in response to these locally-issued claims, with 11,000 of these defences incorporating a counterclaim.

In addition, there were 107,000 claims issued via MCOL or the CCBC which were transferred into local county courts after either a defence or a counterclaim was received. Most of these claims will relate to specified amounts of £5,000 or less, and therefore the total number of defences issued for all claims of this type (regardless of the issuing route) is around 200,000. However, please note that a single claim can name more than one defendant, and can therefore lead to more than one defence being entered.

During 2007, there were 49,000 small claims hearings in claims involving specified amounts of £5,000. These claims may have originally been issued in 2007 or in earlier years. Information is not available on whether these hearings took place in open court or in chambers.

Please note that all figures given for the year 2007 should be considered provisional. Final figures for this year will be published in the Ministry of Justice report “Judicial and Court Statistics” which is planned for release later this year.

Table 1: Small claim hearings by party representation in the county courts of England and Wales, 2007


No legal representative for claimant

No legal representative for defendant


Legal representative for defendant


Legal representative for claimant

No legal representative for defendant


Legal representative for defendant




Notes: 1. There is considered to be a defendant representation if at least one defendant in a case is represented. 2. The breakdown by party representation is estimated and excludes data from a very small minority of courts. Source: HMCS CaseMan system.

Table 2: Number of complaints received by type in the county courts of England and Wales, 2005-06 to 2007-08




Case trial management




Issue/commencement of proceedings












Listing of case (listing/scheduling)




Judicial decision/conduct of case








Other administrative error



Feedback for other bodies












Note: The complaint categories are reviewed annually and it was decided that the "Other administrative error" category should be removed for 2007-08. This was because the other categories provided sufficient flexibility for complaints to be recorded under them. Source: HMCS, Customer Analysis and Feedback system.